A while back I got a LOT of feedback when I asked if Republicans really wanted to create 12 million refugees. My assumption was that if one opposed substantially liberalizing immigration quotas (ie making the quota near unlimited) and one opposed "amnesty" for the 12 million currently illegal immigrants in this country, the only alternative was to try to deport them all.
I got a lot of responses back from all over the political spectrum, but the one I found the most surprising was to say that I was setting up a false choice. The only alternative to amnesty was not deportation. Many advocated for what I would call an "illegal but tolerated" status for these 12 million people, sortof a parallel to how marijuana is treated in many states. I have a few reactions to this:
- Isn't this the status quo? People got really angry with me in the comments for trying to create a straw man position (deportation) for Republicans by not considering this "illegal but tolerated" status. But I can say with all honesty it never crossed my mind. The one theme I get from every Republican candidate and nearly every Conservative pundit is that the current immigration situation is broken and intolerable. So I am still confused. If "amnesty" is still intolerable and the current situation is intolerable and deportation is not what they want (or at least not what they are willing to admit to in public) -- then what is it that Republicans want?
- To avoid charges of racism or economic Luddite-ism (since both history and most economic studies show immigration to be a strong net positive), immigration restrictionists often argue that what they are really defending is the rule of law. Immigration is illegal and what they can't abide is seeing so many people flaunt the law. But what could possibly be more corrosive to the rule of law than an "illegal but tolerated" status? We give effective amnesties all the time. Colorado didn't wait to legalize marijuana until every past illegal user had been prosecuted.
- "illegal but tolerated" is a license for abuse and harassment. It is why organized crime flourishes in narcotics and in alcohol when it was illegal but tolerated. It is why women get abused in prostitution. It creates unpersons with limited access both to the legal system and to the basic plumbing of the modern world (e.g. banking). It drives people underground, pushing people who at worst committed a victim-less crime (ie illegal immigration) into crimes with real victims (e.g. identity theft).
- I continue to argue that Conservatives are abandoning their free market principles when they advocate for strict limits on immigration. I have heard folks like Sheriff Joe say that these folks are "trespassing" in the US. Well, they are only trespassing if we are Marxists and adopt the view there is no such thing as private property and everything belongs to the government. In a free society, the actual questions involved are whether an immigrant can rent an apartment from me, or work for me, or bank with me, etc. Those are supposed to be private decisions. In effect, Conservatives are arguing that I can only hire from or rent to people on a government-approved list. That does not sound like free markets and small government to me.
I am not blind to the problems that our generous welfare policies have on immigration. I would argue that what is needed is a new immigration status. In a sense, those who want 12 million people to be "illegal but tolerated" are essentially arguing for the same thing, but frankly that solution sucks for everyone. I would argue for institutionalizing a new level of legal presence in this country, well short of "citizen" but beyond "illegal but tolerated."
As an aside, for years the Roman Empire was really good at this, at least in its early years. It grew and adopted and eventually commanded the loyalty of a broad range of peoples and cultures in part because it was incredibly flexible in thinking about citizenship status. It had many custom levels, such as Civitas sine suffragio (citizenship without the vote). Many Conservatives argue that Barbarian immigration brought down the Roman Empire and use that as an argument for modern restrictions. But in fact, I believe just the opposite -- that it was the Romans losing their knack for citizenship flexibility and integrating new cultures that contributed to their downfall.
Here is a plan I posted nearly 10 years ago for a new, legal, less-than-full-citizen ability to be present in this country. I am still mostly OK with it:
- Anyone may enter or reside in the US. The government may prevent entry of a very short list of terrorists and criminals at the border, but everyone else is welcome to come and stay as long as they want for whatever reason. Anyone may buy property in the US, regardless or citizenship or residency. Anyone in the US may trade with anyone in the world on the same terms they trade with their next door neighbor.
- The US government is obligated to protect the individual rights, particularly those in the Bill of Rights, of all people physically present in our borders, citizen or not. Anyone, regardless of citizenship status, may buy property, own a business, or seek employment in the United States without any legal distinction vs. US "citizens"
- Certain government functions, including voting and holding office, may require formal "citizenship". Citizenship should be easier to achieve, based mainly on some minimum residency period, and can be denied after this residency only for a few limited reasons (e.g. convicted of a felony). The government may set no quotas or numerical limits on new citizenships.
- All people present in the US pay the same taxes in the same way. A non-citizen or even a short term visitor pays sales taxes on purchases and income taxes on income earned while present in the US just like anyone else. Immigrants will pay property taxes just like long-term residents, either directly or via their rent payments.
- Pure government handouts, like Welfare, food stamps, the EITC, farm subsidies, and public housing, will only be available to those with full US citizenship. Vagrancy and squatting on public or private lands without permission will not be tolerated.
- Most government services and fee-based activities, including emergency services, public education, transportation, access to public recreation, etc. will be open to all people within the US borders, regardless of citizenship status, assuming relevant fees are paid.
- Social Security is a tough beast to classify - I would put it in the "Citizen" category as currently structured (but would gladly put it in the "available to everyone" category if SS could be restructured to better match contributions with benefits, as in a private account system). But, as currently configured, I would propose that only citizens can accrue and receive SS benefits. To equalize the system, the nearly 8% employee and 8% employer social security contributions will still be paid by non-citizens working in the US, but these funds can be distributed differently. I would suggest the funds be split 50/50 between state and local governments to offset any disproportionate use of services by new immigrants. The federal portion could go towards social security solvency, while the state and local portion to things like schools and medical programs.
It may be possible to earn-in to benefits in #5 and #7 based on some cumulative tax payment history. For example, unemployment taxes are really close to an insurance policy, such that a couple of years of payments into the system could make one eligible for benefits. Given how much fraud I see on this from citizens**, I can't believe immigrants would be any worse.